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Football Struggled for popularity in Cricket-Hungry India but Future seems Bright

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Timeless

India's Playing XI against Australia in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup
India's Playing XI against Australia in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup

Times of Glory and of Downfall...

Football is a sport which has constantly been under the shadow of cricket in a ''sports passionate'' country like India. But the Indian national football is slowly emerging from its cocoon and has started to make a mark in International football.

However, it is wrong to assume that football as a sport was always struggling in India. In fact, the origin of football in India can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when the game was introduced by the British soldiers.

From then on, the Indian football has seen many highs as well as its fair share of lows. The highs include reaching the semi-final in the Melbourne Olympics football in 1956, winning the MERDEKA Cup and the Quadrangular Tournaments among many others.

But after the golden phase of 1950s and 1960s, Indian football went through a barren phase in the 70s, 80s and 90s, gradually losing its foothold as a top Asian team. There have been several reasons attributed to this downfall, including the death of the '' Legendary'' coach Mr Syed Abdul Rahim in the 1960s, the lack of proper infrastructure for the development of the game and so on.

But the most widely speculated reason for the downfall of football in India is attributed to the lack of following and interest in the game by the public and more importantly, the youth. This is especially true when compared to a sport like cricket, which has a huge support and fan base in India.


AFC Asian Cup - India crashed out in the group stages in 20
AFC Asian Cup - India crashed out in the group stages in 2011 and 2019

This huge contrast between the following of both cricket and football by the public meant that a number of children and teenagers were picking up cricket bats and balls while growing up, and ignored football altogether.

This, in turn, meant that less number of potential talents were being available in football despite India's huge population. Add this to the lack of basic infrastructure for football in our country and then we can understand why we are lagging behind in this game in the last few decades.

Understanding these problems is 'key' for India to find its feet again and the All India Football Federation has been taking definitive steps towards the same.

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Change in the making...

The beginning of the I-League in 2007 was a successful attempt in professionalizing domestic football. Another step which was revolutionary in terms of rising the popularity of the game in India was the Indian Super League (ISL).

This league provided the Indian players opportunities to learn, practice as well as compete with some fine talents of international football like Alessandro del Piero, Robert Pires, Nicolas Anelka etc.

It also helped in unearthing some wonderful domestic talents as well. Along with the ISL, hosting of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2017 also helped in popularizing the sport among the general public.

Another important step taken up was the development of the basic infrastructure across the country for the improvement of football as well as appointing trained coaches in numerous academies. All these steps eventually culminated in India performing exceeding well in the recent few years and thereby breaching the top 100 in the FIFA rankings.

This is indeed a huge achievement considering the fact that India was ranked a lowly 171 as recently as 2014.

Analyzing the rise of football in India, one can hope that India will do well in the Asian Cup over the next few years and finally qualify for a FIFA World Cup after a decade.

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